Serving with Your Heart

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  Deuteronomy 6:5  NASB

Strength – If I asked you where this statement is found in the Bible, you would probably direct me to Matthew 22:37 where Yeshua cites this verse in response to the question about the greatest commandment.  Here is that verse:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”  What you’ll immediately notice is that it isn’t quite the same as the Deuteronomy version.  Does that mean Yeshua changed it?  No!  He undoubtedly cited it correctly in Hebrew since this verse is part of the daily Shema.  Everyone knew what it said.  So why isn’t it the same in Matthew?  First, we have a translation in Matthew of a Hebrew statement into Greek, and the Greek world is a cognitive one where the concept of “mind” takes priority. By the way, in the LXX the Greek text reads dunameos (“strength”) like the Hebrew.  So we know Yeshua wasn’t citing the LXX.  Second, the translator of Matthew’s Hebrew to Greek ran into a problem.  The Hebrew word in the original verse in Deuteronomy is mĕʾōd (unfortunately mistranslated in the NASB as “strength”).  mĕʾōd certainly does not mean “mind.”  But what does it mean?  Well, that’s a problem.

“mĕʾōd –  exceedingly, much, force, abundance

Infrequently, it is used as a substantive, e.g. Deut 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole strength. . . It is found in many combinations, all expressing the idea of exceeding.”[1]

So we should really have: “Love YHVH Elohenu with kōl (all) your lēbāb, nepeš, and mĕʾōd.”  That is to say, with all your

lēbāb –  heart, understanding, mind

nepeš –  life, creature, person, appetite, mind

mĕʾōd –  exceedingly, much, force, abundance

You can see that both lēbāb and nepeš are much broader ideas than simply “heart” and “soul.”  They cover the range: physical, emotional, volitional, spiritual.  They are life words—encompassing, animating, dynamic.  And along with these is mĕʾōd.  You can also see that mĕʾōd could be translated as “force” and therefore “strength,” but it usually doesn’t function that way.  It’s more like this:  “and with all the intensity you have.”  Of course, this means God expects you to work at it.  It’s not just a comfortable spiritual condition or a warm fuzzy feeling.  It’s effort, labor, industriousness, creativity.  This goes way beyond obedience or compliance.  This is fully committed, ruthless righteousness.

Okay, so how do we do that, we who are but dust, fickle, wavering, emotionally challenged, morally wounded, alien occupants of a broken world?  Perhaps we can start answering this question by noticing that service to God is rabbinically defined as prayer.  Why?  Because prayer, real prayer, is work, which is the other meaning of the Hebrew word for service, ‘avad.

Loving God with all your heart isn’t a feeling.  It’s a job.  Loving him with all your “soul” (a horrible Greek translation), your nepeš, your life-source personality, is an assignment, a task.  And mĕʾōd?  Well, that’s exertion, effort, grind, travail, duty, desire, commission, deed, action, output—blood,  sweat, and tears stuff.

Now, get to it!

Topical Index:  mĕʾōd, intensity, Shema, prayer, work, Matthew 22:37, Deuteronomy 6:5

[1] Kaiser, W. C. (1999). 1134 מאד. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 487). Chicago: Moody Press.

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Richard Bridgan

Emet! And amen.

God (YHVH) has vested his life, his love, his glory, his own being in mankind, who are by contrast “merely” living creatures made to reflect his own being as he is in himself. How could we imagine that the same should not be the required commitment to him in response?